One of the use cases for the Metaverse and its associated technologies, like virtual and augmented reality, is "immersive learning." Learning is a crucial component within the Metaverse, and due to its influential role in the workplace, understanding of this learning methodology is. In this blog post, we'll explain what immersive learning is, how companies are using it today, its efficacy as a learning modality, and the long-term potential of learning in the Metaverse.
According to Training Industry, immersive learning provides individuals with an "interactive learning environment, either physically or virtually, to replicate possible scenarios or to teach particular skills or techniques. Simulations, role play, and virtual learning environments can be considered immersive learning."
Accenture's definition states: “Immersive learning, an advanced form of active learning, uses technology to create fully simulated environments where learners interact with the experience—as close to the “real world” as you can get.”
No matter the exact definition you find, the key aspects of immersive learning include offering learners a higher level of engagement, realistic experience, the opportunity to practice and apply skills, and yes, immersion, when it comes to learning new subject matter and skills development.
Humans have always relied on immersive learning to master skills. It's the reason why firefighters have fire training structures to learn how to navigate real-life situations. It's why NASA does parabolic flights – where airplanes take steep dives in order to create the weightless environment their astronauts will experience in space. And it’s the same reason role play is a staple for learning and development organizations across the world. By enabling people to take what they’ve learned and put it into practice and application, they get to simulate what it’s like to perform tasks and navigate situations, gaining invaluable experience for when the time comes to perform those tasks for real.
There are tremendous learning benefits to staging simulations in the real world, but there are downsides as well. Even in a staged fire, there is still the inherent risk of running into a fire. It's expensive and wasteful for NASA to burn fuel during these parabolic flights. Role play for difficult conversations can lack realism, and isn’t scalable. In other words, creating immersive simulations in the physical world has challenges and limitations, making it difficult to reap the aforementioned benefits. But what if we could deliver the benefits of simulated experiences another way, without those limitations?
A better way to offer learners immersive simulations exists - creating these experiences using extended reality (XR) technologies like virtual and augmented reality – that provides the realism and benefits of immersive learning without the cost, limitations, or risk. NASA’s pilots can practice simulations of their training in the virtual environments of the Metaverse an infinite number of times, while firefighters can get tremendous experience without hazards in a safe virtual environment, and employees can practice role play with virtual characters. XR technology can be used to realistically simulate virtually any environment or task, opening up a new world of possibilities for learning.
In immersive learning simulations, learners use an XR headset, or 2D desktop devices to enter a virtual environment where they are presented with digital twins, or virtual versions, of elements from the physical world. This includes everything from virtual versions of tools to virtual human avatars representing people. These experiences gamify skills development, making it more engaging (see more on efficacy below), and adding fun features typically found in games like game mechanics, scoring, avatars, and 3D graphics.
When it comes to immersive learning content, learning designers are able to create simulations for just about any learning goal, and thanks to the technology of the Metaverse, can set learning experiences to take place in any virtual environment, no matter how challenging it would be to recreate that environment in the real world.
The realistic nature of virtual environments and the simulations that take place within them make immersive learning engaging and impactful. This impact is described in academic research as the ‘immersion principle,’ or the idea that people learn better with immersive media content than they do with less immersive media. When consuming immersive content, learners experience a high degree of realism and interactivity - whether it be engaging in a simulated conversation with a virtual character, practicing assembling a piece of virtual equipment, or another simulated training experience.
The strong sense of presence that these simulations create increases “knowing” over “remembering” and taps into the learners’ real-life cognition. Higher levels of presence have been associated with better factual memory recall and increased episodic memory - the memory of personally experienced events. Learners are able to recall memories of their learning experience and relive them in the moment as the protagonist of a scene they were in, increasing the strength of the memory and retention of their learning. In other words, the experiences learners have in XR simulations produce real memories, and in turn, foster the development of real knowledge and skills.
The theory behind immersive learning methodologies has been further proven in recent years as organizations across the globe deploy XR technology for different learning goals and examine its results. Realizing the impact that immersive learning can have as a skills development medium can’t come soon enough, as global workforce trends point to the need to introduce new and improved learning methodologies.
There's been a problem brewing for years with corporate training. As skills gaps have increased, organizations need to upskill, reskill, and hire talent at volume in order to develop workforces adaptable enough to keep pace with the transformation of their businesses. Factors like the COVID-19 pandemic and technology adoption have exacerbated these issues, as companies navigate hybrid models for work, and in some cases, entire workforces have started working remotely.
Despite these apparent skills gaps, studies have shown that current training methods are ineffective. Accenture found that learners forget 70% of training content within 24 hours and nearly 90% in a month. There's a reason why 90% of executives surveyed by Accenture also say employee training needs to be reimagined.
At the same time, the Great Resignation is taking place. Companies need ways to more effectively train employees, and to recreate their culture in a virtual world - many new employees have never met their colleagues in the real-world. This goes beyond video conferencing: research shows – as we'll see in the next section – that immersive learning is much more engaging and effective than video training and other types of programming. While remote work gains more traction and is widely adopted, the Metaverse is a perfect avenue to ensure efficient employee onboarding and impactful training, while creating a tangible company culture in a remote world.
Another big 4 firm, PwC, conducted its own survey looking at the efficacy of different training methods and the results were eye-opening. PwC’s VR soft skills training study found that "learners trained with VR were up to 275% more confident to act on what they learned after training — a 40% improvement over classroom and 35% improvement over e-learn training."
PwC suggests that some of the reasons VR may be more effective than e-learning is that today's learners have more distractions than ever - other open tabs, their smartphones, getting pinged on work messaging platforms. Because immersive learning is just that – immersive – learners are more focused, engaged, and not distracted.
The benefits of immersive learning go beyond the learners’ experience. VR learning also greatly increases the impact talent development teams are able to affect in their functions. Talent development teams are able to spend less time on administering training and onboarding, freeing them up to do more impactful, strategic work as they design the talent programs that will carry their organizations forward through business transformation. Immersive learning is also a better investment at scale, PwC found, with companies seeing up to 52% higher cost effectiveness than e-learning training.
In a broader context, Accenture found six main benefits of immersive learning. Immersive learning delivers the ability to:
These benefits could make us all better workers – but also make our companies better places to work. Some organizations are even leveraging immersive learning to bring about a more inclusive work environment and diverse workforce. These exercises work to make learners aware of discrimination, uncover implicit biases, and foster empathy toward colleagues.
We're just scratching the surface when it comes to harnessing the power of immersive learning.
The reason immersive learning’s efficacy is tangible is that it delivers detailed and accurate data on a learner’s performance, as well as historic data about a learner’s skills development journey. This is made possible thanks to XR technology, which offers a higher level of interactivity than other learning modalities, and the ability to collect data on a learner’s interactions and performance while using the technology. A rich data set is created when a learner completes an immersive learning module, enabling talent development teams to capture data that goes far beyond a completion statement for a particular module, or piece of learning content.
Examples of data that can be collected from XR learning platforms include tracking decisions made at key decision points within a simulation, a user’s movement within a 3D environment, head movements while wearing an XR headset, and eye tracking, or gaze analysis to examine where users focus during a simulation. This type of data can be utilized to assess and validate specific skills based on a learner’s decisions and actions within a learning simulation.
For example, a learning module focused on simulating a performance feedback conversation will require learners to exhibit skills like delivering constructive feedback, conflict resolution, and managing difficult conversations. Different decision points within the learning module will require the use of these skills, and based on how the learner handles various decisions in the virtual role play conversation, those skills will be measured. These decision points are opportunities for learners to receive feedback so they can adapt their behavior, and also serve as opportunities for talent development teams to collect skills data to measure skills, and inform talent development programs.
Because of its versatility and proven impact, many companies are already taking advantage of immersive learning for a variety of training use cases. These use cases typically fall into two broad categories:
For immersive soft skills training content, the predominant format involves employees engaging in simulated role play scenarios with virtual human characters. In these simulations, learners use their voices to navigate the simulation as they would in a real conversation. The virtual characters they practice role play with exhibit realistic speech, mannerisms, and emotions. This enables learning and development teams to create learning scenarios where employees can practice situations like de-escalating a situation with a difficult customer, providing feedback to a peer or direct report, or using empathetic communication.
Practicing role play in this format provides the learner with a safe place to fail without judgment, and offers a high degree of emotional realism. Learners also enjoy access to real-time feedback on their skills development, accurate skills measurement, and the ability to redo simulations an unlimited number of times at their own pace.
One example of immersive technology being deployed for soft skills training use cases comes from the Ken Blanchard Companies®, one of the most prominent leadership training companies in the world. They collaborated with Talespin to create a training program called the ‘Building Trust VR Simulation’ – helping learners facilitate trust in the workplace. The training empowered leaders to simulate life-like conversations with a virtual human in an immersive environment emulating a real-world office. By simulating common workplace scenarios and encounters, they learned techniques and behaviors to build trust and repair it when it has been broken.
"Immersive experiences allowing for safe practice of skills is critical in our virtual working world. Consuming content passively—such as viewing a video or even less-interactive modalities like an eLearning course—only conveys the knowledge," said Britney Cole, vice president of solutions architecture and innovation strategy at Ken Blanchard. "Skill acquisition and habit building will occur only when individuals apply the knowledge."
Accenture, meanwhile, teamed up with Goodwill to create a VR program that helps those who have previously been incarcerated to learn how to better interview for jobs. The program helps these individuals become more confident speaking about their incarceration, while also training them on modern technology. The program simulates job interviews, so candidates are better equipped to answer questions about their past and put their best foot forward.
JFFLabs, a unit of JFF, and SAP collaborated with Talespin on the Skill Immersion Lab, a program that provides high school-aged learners with access to immersive learning technology in order to help them develop the communication skills needed for gainful employment. Over 85% of learners who participated in the program felt more confident speaking with others after completing immersive learning experiences. Eighty-five percent reported that their ability to find the right words to express an idea improved during the program. Furthermore, 90% of learners acknowledged that they went back to check their answers to see how they could improve when they finished a lesson.
While spanning a broad range of skills and topics, this cross section of immersive soft skills training use cases all share common themes: a focus on providing employees with a means to practice critical communication skills that can be challenging to realistically practice through role play or e-learning methods.
Training for technical skills using virtual reality is not a new concept. Flight simulators have been used by airlines for decades to train pilots, a task that is difficult to practice without high costs, inherent risk, scalability and logistical challenges, or a lack of realism. Today’s hard skills training use cases follow a similar trend, as companies are adopting immersive technology to help employees practice technical skills and processes that are difficult, expensive, and sometimes dangerous to realistically simulate in the real world.
An early hard skills training use case that gained popularity came from the insurance industry, as Farmers Insurance® collaborated with Talespin in 2017 on an immersive learning program to help train insurance claims professionals. Learners in the training module are presented with a VR simulation of a home water damage investigation scenario that can take on 500 possible simulated damage types and home layouts.
The task? Explore the virtual home environment as an insurance claims employee would in the field at a customer’s home. This includes using digital twins of virtual damage assessment tools, recording details of the insurance claim as their investigation unfolds, engaging with virtual plumbing and home building materials experts as they document the claim, and receiving performance scoring and feedback on the demonstration of their investigation and claims processing skills. This use case is demonstrative of the advantages of VR technical skills training: taking what would typically be an expensive and logistically challenging learning scenario to simulate, and making it more scalable, affordable, and engaging.
"Farmers work with Talespin continues to deliver innovative technology to help empower our employees to provide a high level of customer service,” said Scott Lindquist, chief financial officer of Farmers Group, Inc, the attorney-in-fact of Farmers Insurance Exchange. "Their immersive VR and AR platforms have helped us reshape the way we look at training Farmers Insurance® Claims Adjusters.”
In addition to memorizing processes and getting practice repetitions in completing them, immersive learning for technical skills training can also be designed to help people learn about objects and products in detail. For example, the Residential Fundamentals learning module was created to help learn about the key components of a residential home, enabling them to remotely visualize the components of a home and their relationships to one another.
This learning module took what would typically be a classroom learning task requiring exposure to physical examples of the materials, or e-learning content focused on memorization, and made it an engaging remote experience by virtually recreating digital twins of the building materials. Now learners can gain exposure to these materials from anywhere.
Osso VR, a VR training company focused on training medical professionals, uses its VR training platform to simulate medical procedures ranging from the simple and routine to complex and specialized. Osso VR’s training simulations use virtual operating room environments, digital twins of medical devices, and virtual avatars to create realistic, accurate training experiences for medical professionals. These training simulations take medical procedures that are difficult or expensive to simulate otherwise, and makes them repeatable and measurable thanks to the characteristics of immersive learning.
Potential use cases for VR hard skills training are almost endless, as organizations look for scalable, safe, and effective ways to teach a range of technical skills. This technology opens up new possibilities for individual professional development, and workforce reskilling and upskilling. This will be particularly critical as technical job roles continue to evolve alongside advances in technology and automation.
In 2020, the Immersive Training market was valued at $26 billion. In 2024, it is expected to reach nearly $300 billion. There are countless use cases that companies will take advantage of in the near future – and many new content creators that will emerge to fill the growing demand for content. As the immersive learning content becomes available on more consumer devices, and becomes more personalized and even more realistic, we'll continue to see a steady increase in adoption.
So what will immersive training look like in the future?
With the benefits of immersive learning proven, the next natural progression for the learning modality is for it to be applied to more use cases. From the aforementioned PwC VR training study to the Skill Immersion Lab and other tests of immersive learning, the conclusion is the same: the technology works, and now needs to be applied to as many use cases as possible to accelerate learning and skills development for the workforce at large.
The use cases being developed and deployed by organizations range from employee onboarding to leadership training, management skills, customer service, manufacturing, investigative skills, and more. As more organizations and learning content creators adopt immersive learning, we will soon see entire talent development programs move to the Metaverse, spanning the workforce lifecycle from recruiting and onboarding to reskilling and upskilling for new job roles and continuous learning.
The past few years have seen immersive learning adopted by swaths of Fortune 1000 organizations globally. After deploying successful pilots for the technology, these organizations are looking to take the next step in their adoption in order to reap the benefit of the technology’s ROI at scale.
Immersive learning content will offer organizations two key opportunities to increase adoption:
These factors will enable organizations to design large-scale immersive learning programs that teach business-specific capabilities and industry-specific skills, and enable personalized learning journeys for individual employees based on accurate skills data and their performance in immersive learning modules.
As immersive technologies continue to develop, the Metaverse will offer even more possibilities for education. The experiences employees can have in virtual reality learning simulations already surpass anything previously possible with other learning formats. This trend will continue, as new immersive learning platform features and capabilities enable even more engaging and impactful experiences.
Companies are already bringing their operations into the Metaverse - creating digital twins of their offices for employees to collaborate in from remote locations, and creating digital twins of their products and intellectual property. This includes building private microverses where employees can work and learn together, as well as public destinations on popular Metaverse platforms where organizations and their employees can engage with consumers. These trends will enable new collaborative and group learning experiences in addition to the individual learning experiences that are already being created at scale in VR.
In addition to new virtual destinations that enable co-presence in the Metaverse during learning experiences, Metaverse access across devices, and new ways to measure and visualize skills development will see the concept of learning in the Metaverse continue to expand and enable new learning formats.
Creator economies have transformed industries ranging from music and video entertainment to web development and traditional learning content. The concept of enabling creators through no-code tools to develop the content scale needed to shift consumer audiences to new mediums and platforms is not new, and is coming next to immersive learning.
The demand for immersive learning content is growing thanks to its impressive benefits, and content supply is the next logical piece of the equation. As organizations make immersive learning a standard, and learning designers see the potential of immersive learning, no-code content creation tools will lower the barrier to entry. This will enable a new revenue stream for individuals, and a new supply of learning products for organizations to adopt.
The economy for immersive learning products and their associated assets will follow that of website development - As businesses moved their storefronts online and demand for websites grew, new product and service categories emerged such as website development services, website creation and hosting platforms, website design templates, and website plugins for various capabilities. Analogous economies are already popping up in the Metaverse that monetize content creation, and major Metaverse platforms like Meta Horizons are putting in place the foundation for creators to create and sell virtual items.
The same will occur for immersive learning content. Content modules themselves are already being productized, as XR development companies create and sell learning content. Look for the next evolution of the immersive learning content economy to arrive soon, as immersive learning design services, immersive learning content templates, and virtual assets become productized. Learning content assets that have potential for productization in the Metaverse include virtual environments, virtual human characters, and digital twins of products and IP that can be used in immersive learning modules. The emergence of additional immersive learning products and services will offer organizations a wider range of Metaverse learning products to purchase, and new revenue opportunities for learning content creators.
Immersive learning refers to a learning approach that uses realistic and engaging learning methodologies to present learners with realistic scenarios. For example, immersive learning using virtual reality training technology provides learners with a sense of presence and immersion in a virtual environment where they can practice and apply skills during simulations.
An example of immersive learning is using virtual reality to simulate real-world scenarios and for training purposes. For instance, a firefighter could use a virtual reality simulation to practice their skills in a controlled and safe environment, which would allow them to learn from their mistakes without risking harm to themselves or others. Similarly, a healthcare professional could use a virtual reality simulation to practice patient conversations, which would allow them to develop their skills and confidence in a realistic environment.
Immersive learning has several benefits for education. Immersive learning platforms can provide learners with engaging and interactive learning experiences that can improve their focus, accelerate learning, and increase knowledge retention. Immersive learning can also provide learners with opportunities to practice skills and apply knowledge in a realistic context, which can improve their performance and confidence.
Also, immersive learning can be used to provide learners with real-time feedback on their skills development, which can help them identify their strengths and weaknesses.
The future of immersive learning is bright, and we are seeing it come to fruition now. Executives can now simulate difficult conversations with employees – such as putting one on a performance plan – that's entirely tailored to the unique situation of that employee, their company and industry. Workers are able to tour a manufacturing plant on the other side of the world to better understand their company's assembly line and supply chains – without ever leaving their home office. Leaders are able to truly mentor employees in other geographies through meetings in Metaverse office spaces and VR training.
From role play to flight simulators, immersive learning has shaped humanity's past. Now with the accessibility of VR and tailored immersive learning content, it's poised to shape not just our workforce, but societies at large. Workplace training and education will never be the same. Perhaps Albert Einstein put it best: “Learning is experience. Everything else is just information.”
To bring your learning programs to the next level, check out the Talespin blog for further analysis, updates, and Metaverse intel.